10.04.2008 - 15.04.2008 20 °C
Ah, keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel
Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel
Roadhouse Blues by The Doors
Hola from La Paz, the worlds highest capital city at a dizzying 3600 metres above seas level, a city where you have no excuse not to have shiny shoes, as shoeshine boys are on every street corner.
At the weekend I told our parents we were going mountain-biking yesterday. While that certainly wasnt a lie, I relented from telling them that we were biking down the Worlds Most Dangerous Road!
Check out the fantastic Kiwi owned companies www.gravitybolivia.com for full details and read yesterdays entry for our thoughts and experiences. I´m also in the middle of uploading some new photos to www.flickr.com/photos/murrayandlynn
So what have we been up to..........
Friday April 11th
We got up and checked out, the room was only 240 BOL, well worth it for the amount of time we spent in it being sick and watching football!
We hung around Copacabana until our 1.30pm bus, killing time on the internet and phoning my sister Carla who had somehow managed to fall down an 8 foot hole at her work! It is not just her pride that is bruised!
After an hour on the bus we all got out to catch two wee boats across a river, while the bus went on a bigger boat that looked like it might sink at any moment. Thankfully it didnt and we rejoined the bus on the other side and sped towards L Paz. I listened to The Beatles on the way, what a band.
We arrived in La Paz. From the outskirts it looks a complete dump, as you pass through lots of mini-villages/slums that have sprung up around the city. You then catch a sight of La Paz nestling in the valley down below and begin a descemnt down into the heart of the city. After jumping out the bus we caught a short cab ride to Hostal Nairia that Lynn had discovered on the internet.
Rooms were a pricey $32, but after a few days of doing nothing we had saved money and checked in. The room we had was lovely, complete with private sparkling clean bathroom and cable TV!
Reception had a leaflet for ´the best burger in La Paz´, so with our appetites fully restored we jumped a cab and headed to the place called Mongos for a gorgeous burger and chips, washed down with our first beers in Bolivia - Pacena Gold, which may make an appearance in our end of trip top 5 beers from around the world competition.
Saturday April 12th
Woke up at 8am even though the alarm was set for 9am and Lynn was pleasantly surprised to find the bathroom had its own hairdryer! The cafe downstairs had a buffet breakfast that we got as part of our room, so we feasted on fruit, muesli, bread and jam, washed down with coca tea.
We went a walk round the neighbourhood and stumbled across the excellent Museo de la Coca. A museum dedicated to the coca leaf, which has played a major part in the history of Bolivia and continues ot do so until this day.
The museum tells of how workers chew coca leafs to put in extraordinary shifts, cocas importance in medical history, the history with Coca Cola and of course how it is manufactured into cocaine. It takes 328kg of coca leaves to make 1kg of cocaine. So chewing on coca leaves or drinking coca tea isnt like doing cocaine, but it is medicinal.
We booked in for a Mountain Bike trip down the Worlds Most Dangerous Road for Monday with Gravity and then continued to explore the area. We passed what is possibly the worlds most notorious prison at San Pedro Plaza.
One of the best books Lynn and I have read on our travels is a true story written by an Australian lawyer called Rusty Young about an English drug smuggler jailed in this prison. The book is called Marching Powder and is nothing short of extraordinary. It tells of Thomas McFadden being caught smuggling cocaine out of Bolivia and how he was literally thrown into this prison where prisoners have to ´buy´ their cells, some live like kings and others barely survive. Check out www.marchingpowder.com
At one stage Thomas McFadden was running guided tours of the prison for travellers but that has ´officially´ stopped, although allegedly you can bribe guards to let you in. I had no desire to go in, although Lynn was pretty curious.
Anyway we didnt go in and had dinner at a restaurant called Angelito Colonial before relaxing in our room watching a Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford film.
Sunday April 13th
Not a lot to write about today. We got up and had breakfast and then returned to the room to watch Manchester United 2 v 1 Arsenal. One of the best games of football I have seen in a long time and a fantastic result for United in the title race with Chelski hot on their heels.
Monday April 14th - The Worlds Most Dangerous Road!
Well, what a day we had yesterday. It started with a meeting in La Terraza Cafe with our guides and other crazy mountain bike buddies. There were 12 of us and we caught one mini bus with a nice Irish couple called Stephen and Sinead and a couple of young English guys that looked a tad hungover.
We sped out of La Paz and ascended to the start of our ride, La Cumbre, 4760 metres above sea level. It was pretty cold and misty at the start and we got kitted out in waterproofs, helmets, goggles, gloves and with a super duper $3000 dual suspension mountain bike.
Our guide for the day was a Kiwi called Matt, a top bloke with years of experience. We took 20 minutes to get to know our bike and then sped off downhill. The first part of the day isnt on the Worlds Most Dangerous Road (WMDR), it is on a nice smooth tarmac road where you can pick up great speeds and you dont need to pedal at all!
We flew downhill and had a great time, before eventually reaching the start of the WMDR. At this stage I should explain that the WMDR leads down into a valley, dropping from 3150 metres above sea level to 1100 metres. It is a single track road that was used by the villages in the valley for years untila new road was built going round the other way. The WMDR used to see an average of between 250-300 deaths a year through accidents, buses, trucks and cars going over the side.
Nowadays it is barely used by cars. It is now a tourist attraction for Mountain Bikers, thanks to crazy Kiwis! It is still dangerous though. You are cycling down a single track road that is very narrow at times, bumpy almost all the time and at times you have 600 metre plus vertical drops on your left hand side. It is definitely a case of keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.
We set off cautiously, a lot slower than the speeds we had been picking up on the tarmac. We stopped regularly so Matt could check how we were doing and for photo opportunities. As we had come down through the clouds we had experienced a bit of rain, but that only added to the excitement.
The longer we went on, the more confident we got. Well, the more confident I got, Lynn was always last but this was no race! It was great flying down the mountainside with mud splattering your face and cothes.
At 2100 metres above sea level we had to cycle under the San Juan Waterfalls. They were stunning and we stopped to admire them before carrying on. Near the finish we had to bike through a river and I fell in. At least it washed some of the mud off! We all arrived at the finish safely and enjoyed hot showers, a beer and pasta and veg.
I would thoroughly recommend the WMDR and the company Gravity to anyone up for a bit of excitement. We had a great day.
The bus journey back was long and laborious and after a sandwich we crashed out exhausted at 10pm. What a day!
Tuesday April 15th
Tonight we get a night bus to Uyuni where we will stay in the famous Salt Hotel before heading on a 2 day/1 night trip around the amazing Salt Plains.
After that we intend to head to a town called Tupiza, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their demise before heading into Argentina where we will have to bring our trip to a close at some point! Our flight back isnt until June 10th though, although as we have a wedding on June 14th and Lynn returns to work on June 16th, we will probably bring it forward 5 days or so.
Speak to you after the Salt Plains.
Murray and Lynn